Tears, cheers as Bulldogs end AFL drought

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Tears, cheers as Bulldogs end AFL drought

Only those AFL players lucky enough to feature in a grand final are able to properly describe the pressure created by the sport’s most momentous stage.

They see the city of Melbourne come to life with their club’s colours.

They hear the noise generated by a crowd larger than the entire population of Ballarat.

They know millions around the country will be watching; that they will be responsible for the delight or despair of fans around the world.

They sense the expectation, long before the ball is bounced at the MCG or Mike Brady belts out the sport’s anthem.

For those players attempting to break a premiership drought, it is all amplified. Sydney had their turn in 2005 and, on Saturday, it was the Western Bulldogs’ 62-year wait for a flag that boiled down to four quarters.

You could tell. Pundits described it as the loudest grand-final crowd in recent memory. They roared when Easton Wood won the toss, when Zaine Cordy kicked the first goal of the game and every highlight that followed.

There were a lot.

The Bulldogs could hardly have handled the occasion better, producing a grand final to rival any of the classics.

It was a feel-good moment for so many people, including injured skipper Bob Murphy who was called up to the premiership dais and handed a medallion by coach Luke Beveridge.

“This is your’s mate. You deserve it more than anyone,” Beveridge said.

Beveridge and Swans counterpart John Longmire grinned and joked at Friday’s pre-match media conference when asked about the prospect of extra time, introduced in the grand final this year for the first time.

It didn’t eventuate but looked on the cards midway through the final term. Extra time would have been a fitting finish to a thrilling contest that ebbed and flowed in near-unbelievable fashion.

The Bulldogs, so resilient in an injury-riddled season and so undaunted in a history-making finals campaign, were relentless as they completed a fairytale run to the flag from seventh place on the ladder.

Excitement machine Jason Johannisen, born in South Africa and more interested in rugby union for much of his childhood, was a popular choice for the Norm Smith medal.

Tom Boyd dropped a chest mark in the opening minute but settled to produce the greatest game of his career, clutching six contested marks and kicking the sealer to silence those who slammed his million-dollar salary.

At the other end of the ground, it was Joel Hamling, delisted by Geelong but handed a career lifeline by the Dogs, who did an incredibly good job on Lance Franklin.

From the moment Franklin trotted to the goal square after the national anthem, Hamling refused to be intimidated.

It was a trait that epitomised the Bulldogs’ approach, especially in the second quarter when the Swans booted four goals on the trot and threatened to seize control of the low-scoring clash.

Murphy, who patrolled the sideline pre-match like a Davis Cup captain, cried at the siren. The tears didn’t stop for some time.

Murphy will spend the rest of his life wishing he did not rupture his anterior cruciate ligament early in the season.

But the 34-year-old, like so many current and former teammates to have fallen in love with Whitten Oval, will celebrate like it’s 1954.

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